So it had finally come about, the holiday that Kalistra and I had booked some ten months earlier to the beautiful city of Marrakech, Morocco. It would be fair to say that in the months prior to the trip I had been sceptical of what to expect as pretty much all I had heard from Kalistra was markets, markets, markets. Now I have nothing against Markets but I want a bit more if I'm going to be travelling nearly 2000 miles I would like a little more. Luckily there was plenty more.
As usual with my holidays with Kalistra the journey starts at about 2am, waking up from about 3 hours sleep and making our way to the airport by any means possible and on this occasion it was by EasyBus. I understand that they make these things as 'efficient' as possible but really I think a five year old would have struggled to fit into those seats let alone a 6'4 bloke who could probably lose a few pounds. Despite the squeeze we made it to Gatwick North Terminal in plenty of time, checked in and even had a cheeky Weatherspoons breakfast before hotfooting it to Gate 105. The Plane journey was particularly uneventful, I tried to sleep, I couldn't. We landed at approximately 8:30am local time, my initial thoughts were the weather is hot but not as unbearable but then I took another look at the clock, 8:30am ahh.. Anyway we checked in and saw our man holding the sign for Riad Abhar, the place we were staying. We got into the car and after a few seconds his phone rang, the familiar sound of Psy's Gangnam Style, this though was the last feeling of familiarity I would have for a while. As soon as we got out of the Airport car park it was clear to see that the Moroccan's had a, lets say, different attitude towards road safety there appeared to be no road markings, no traffic lights and a clearly excessive horn usage policy. It really was a free for all as far as driving, cars and mopeds weaving in and out of each other sometimes one vehicle across, sometimes 3 or 4 depending on how fast people were deciding to travel, it was crazy. The taxi dropped us off at the Main Square known locally as Jemaa El Fna and before we had even got out of the Taxi an elderly gent with a cart was offloading our bags and beginning to walk away with them. We didn't really question and just followed this man through the increasingly narrowing streets of Marrakech's Souk (Market) district. We were following for about 5 minutes when the streets became empty, dark and very narrow it was a little concerning but then he stopped and knocked on a large door, as soon as it opened we saw the Riad as it looked in all the pictures.
We had properly arrived and I could begin to enjoy my holiday. We were greeted by Abdul the Riad manager who gave us some Moroccan tea poured from a great height as is the tradition, he explained to us what was on offer, a number of tours two of which we decided to take him up on and also various massage experiences which we will go into later. We took the bags up to the room and got ourselves settled. The room was beautiful from the 10ft tall door to the four poster bed it was magnificent.
We took our first excursion into the town just after 11am to take a little look around and a spot of lunch planning to return in time for our Hamam massage at 3 o'clock. At this point I should point out that my poor forward planning meant that I had not brought a map with me on this holiday and despite my best efforts I could not find one at the airport. We wandered through and almost immediately had people shouting their prices at us for their various nik-naks. Kalistra took an interest in a tea set which we decided was something to buy more towards the end of the holiday, suffice to say we never found that place again. We carried on walking eventually finding our way back to the main square where we found a nice place with a roof terrace to have our first meal of the holiday. It was nice but nothing special (luckily the food got WAY better). We looked around the square and surrounding areas a bit more before heading back towards the Riad, the question was which direction was that.. This is why I mentioned the map, neither of us had been paying the slightest bit of attention to which direction we had come and so inevitable we became hopelessly lost within the Souks. Each narrow path way with market stalls on each side looked exactly as the last and it was probably half an hour before I gave in and we asked someone for directions. Luckily the locals were friendly and spoke superb English, unluckily they each said that there were hundreds of Riads in Marrakech and they had no idea where our particular one was. We weren't disheartened yet but it didn't take long and then one man said he knew and we followed him through areas that didn't look familiar, through the blacksmith district where people were welding in the middle of the street, the flames licking perilously close to the ankles of passers by. It became apparent that this man was not leading us to our Riad at all but to an entirely different place that he thought we had said. It was a wool and dye merchants. It was filled with beautiful scarves of silk and cashmere and we had an enlightening lesson on which powders made which colours (it was never the ones we guessed, red made blue, brown made green it was genuinely interesting) but it was not what we wanted. We tried explaining the man again and he apologised for his mistake and we went off following him again, picking up a number of other helpful locals along the way. This time he took us to an internet cafe and they printed out a picture of our place we knew we were getting close to the goal. We followed for a further 5 minutes before getting back to the Riad we were definitely both relieved. We gave the man a hefty tip for his help and then they were on their way and we were back at pretty much 3 o'clock on the dot, we sat down and a lady came up to us and said 'Hamam?'
A little stressed at the events just previous I would have happily missed out on this and just chilled at the hotel for a bit but Kalistra said that she had researched this and it would be very relaxing. I believed her, I shouldn't have. We followed this woman just down the road and into a building, we sat down and waited. We were directed into separate rooms with it being a strict Muslim country there was a lot of separation with this kind of thing. I was led into a room by a short moustachioed man and prompted to remove my clothes, I hadn't had time to change into my swimming trunks so I just remained in my underwear, I tried to tie a towel around my waste but the man shook his head. I was then led into a steam room where I sat down. The man left me there and I thought fine this is nice, I will relax here for a bit.. Oh no, I didn't get away that easily, the man returned with a bucket of water and a cup. The man spoke no English so although he did say something to me I didn't understand it, he then started throwing water over me. When he stopped he pointed at the bench and prompted me to lie down, more water I thought.. Oh no, I didn't get away that easily, out of the corner of my eye I saw him putting on a dark mitt.. my heart started racing and not in a good way. The Moustachioed man then began to scrub me all over with some sort of soap, first my back and my neck, then my legs and then lifting the band of my boxer shorts gave my buttocks a scrub. He then signalled me to turn over, Oh God, I was now getting worried, he scrubbed my stomach and the front of my legs before lifting the band of my boxers again.. One quick scrub down either side of my front and there it was one of the most awkward moments of my life! The man then left the room and me lying there in a state of shock not knowing whether or not to move, after five or so minutes I sat up still confused. The man returned with two more buckets of water, my heart started racing again, What now? He got some lukewarm water and cleaned off the remaining soap before throwing the remains of the bucket of water over my head. He then took to the second bucket, splashed me with some, just enough for me to feel that it was pretty cold before he then through that over me too. It was over, he led me back to the original room where I was handed a towel and a gown. I got dressed minus my sodden underwear and went back to the lobby where I was given some tea before shortly reuniting with Kalistra who told me she'd had a similar ordeal. We thanked everyone concerned before awkwardly making our way back to the Riad nervously giggling the whole way.
We did little else that evening, partly though fear, partly through exhaustion from starting the day at 2am. We had a lovely chicken tagine dinner in the hotel which was far superior to the meal we'd had at lunch and then we retired to our room for the night.